Summer is coming to an end, and as I'm having trouble saying goodbye, I'm comforted by all the beautiful produce still available in the farmers' markets this late in the season. Last week I visited the Tucker Square Greenmarket at the corner of Columbus Avenue and 66th Street. They are a compact market with about six or eight small yet bounteous stands. I couldn't help but notice all the fruits: last-of-the-season white and yellow peaches and a few early varieties of apples, such as honey crisp. But what really caught my attention during this visit was a crate full of beautiful green and yellow zucchini. That's when I immediately decided on making this recipe for vegetable tian.
A tian is technically a name for a type of French earthenware casserole commonly used in the region of Provençe. But the name "tian" also carries over to the meal cooked in the earthenware container. This vegetable tian is possibly one of the simplest recipes that can be made especially with an abundance of late-summer vegetables like zucchini, squash, eggplant, and tomatoes. Similar to a gratin, this casserole features layers of thinly sliced vegetables artfully assembled together, topped with Swiss cheese, and baked until tender and brown.
Many vegetable tians also use potatoes, but I've omitted them, preferring to use eggplants. At the same market I found many different varieties of eggplants including long Japanese and Chinese in white and purple, Italian, globe, and small round graffiti ones. I decided to use a combination of different eggplants in this recipe because their varying colors are so eye-catching. Yellow squash also works well if yellow zucchini cannot be found. As long as all the colors of summer are represented in this dish, it will look truly festive. Pair the tian with a juicy roasted chicken and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and you will have a meal to celebrate a summer's end that won't soon be forgotten.
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
12 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves only
2 medium green zucchini
2 medium yellow zucchini
2 thin eggplants
4 plum tomatoes
1/4 cup grated Gruyère
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13 baking dish with oil.
Warm oil in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add half the thyme leaves. Spread the onion and garlic mixture in the bottom of the baking dish.
Cut the zucchini, eggplants, and tomatoes into 1/4-inches thick slices, discarding the ends. Layer the slices in the the baking dish on top of the onions and garlic, alternating the vegetables to create a colorful design. Drizzle surface of vegetables with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with remaining thyme leaves.
Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake 30 to 40 minutes. Remove foil cover. Sprinkle top of vegetables with cheese. Bake for an additional 10 to 20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before serving. Yield: 8 servings.